Saturday September 5 2015

Four conclusions from first EPL month

Swansea’s Jack Cork (L), Ayew (C) and Gomis

Swansea’s Jack Cork (L), Ayew (C) and Gomis have already set the EPL alight and more is expected from them. PHOTO BY AFP 

By Allan Ssekamatte

Do not remember an English Premier League season that ever began with such gusto.
Leicester City, Crystal Palace and Swansea City are occupying Champions League positions, and unlike in previous years, there is no guarantee they will relinquish them.

Put another way, the gap between traditional giants Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, the two Manchester clubs and the rest has diminished to nought. As teams head for the international break, it is time to reflect on the conclusions we can infer from the first four games of the season.

No resting on laurels Champions Chelsea’s insipid start to the season is a reminder that no team can afford to rest on its laurels. Because Premier League teams are awash with cash, what we used to refer to as run-of-the-mill teams have been able to sign players from Champions League playing clubs. While Chelsea stagnated over the summer, thinking their title winning squad would coast to success again without major surgery, rivals went to work.

Swansea have, for example, taken points off Chelsea and Man Utd thanks to shrewd business in the market. Andre Ayew came on a free from Marseille, a team that usually plays in the Champions League whereas Crystal Palace were decidedly superior to the champions and are being powered by the midfield ingenuity of Yohanne Cabaye, who is a record signing from moneybags Paris St Germain. Arsenal and Southampton are two other teams that did well last season but have not done enough in the transfer market to strengthen.

As celebrity Arsenal fan and longtime Arsene Wenger critic Piers Morgan stated, it is a travesty that the club has 200m pounds to spend, yet it hasn’t made any serious foray into the market.

Africans means business Some teams are paying over the top because they are dead set on signing European talent when Africans could have delivered better value at better prices. Raheem Sterling for 50m pounds, Kevin de Bruyne for 55m and Anthony Martial for 36m are examples of unproven players who have cost a fortune.

On the other hand, Ayew came on a free and scored against both Chelsea and Manchester United. Bakary Sakho joined Palace on a free from Wolves but tormented Chelsea’s defense in a match winning performance. Elsewhere, Ivorian powerhouse Yaya Toure is the driving force for table leaders Manchester City while Leicester City’s stellar start is in no small measure courtesy of Algerian Riyad Mahrez’s wing wizardry. In fact, Africans are doing so well. On the opening weekend our boys scored one third of all goals in the EPL.

So club scouts need to do better to identify prodigal African talent as they are usually big, fast, strong and hungry to prove themselves. Emma Adebayor excluded.

Championship getting better Pundits do not give the championship enough credit. You will hear commentators saying, “So and so is a championship player. He can’t meet the grade in the Premier League.” What baloney! Newly promoted Bournemouth are playing football to behold, yet their squad did not undergo major surgery. I saw them run Liverpool ragged despite falling narrowly.

They then traveled to Upton Park and beat a decent West Ham side 4-3, a team that has beaten Arsenal and Liverpool away from home without conceding. Callum Wilson is already joint top scorer while Bakary Sakho used Branislav Ivanovic – arguably last season’s best right back - to wipe the floor.
The quicker we stop patronising players coming from the Championship, the better.

Coaches, players tactically sound
Alan Pardew says Crystal Palace’s victory over Chelsea was underpinned by a tactical decision to double up on Ivanovic. He asked both Wilfred Zaha and Sakho to occupy the Serbian, who is usually a major attacking outlet for the champions. It worked. But Pardew did more than just that.

He played three central defenders – both nullifying Diego Costa’s threat and doubling up on Chelsea’s wide men Eden Hazard and Pedro. Not surprisingly, both were ineffective. Over in Wales, Bafetimbi Gomis was putting United’s central defense to the sword.

In my estimation, the former Lyon forward has more ammunition – good in the air, twinkle toed, can shoot with both feet – than Wilfred Bony, his predecessor. You have to credit coach Gary Monk who has also overseen Jonjo Shelvey’s development into one of the league’s best passers.

I used to think Cesc Fabregas had the best through ball in the EPL. I must confess Shelvey now tops him.

ADMIRERS APLENTY
Swansea City are the club being tipped to gatecrash the top four this season after their stunning come-from-behind victory over Man Utd. Andre Ayew and Bafetimbi Gomis were again on target as Garry Monk’s men moved into the Champions League places heading into the international break.

assekamatte@gmail.com